Correspondent's take

Tackling terror threat is everybody's business

At a four-day conference focused on homeland security last October, anti-terrorism and risk experts gathered here to discuss the thorny questions of how to prevent a terror attack in Singapore, and what can be done should an attack occur.

While there was broad consensus on the need for governments and security agencies to collaborate more closely - since they are the ones who hold much of the ground intelligence and wield the authority to act on it - there was also a strong call by experts for the private sector to play a greater role.

After all, businesses and organisations either own or manage some 95 per cent of Singapore's infrastructure.

And the odds are that a terror attack will target one or more such buildings since they are unlikely to be hardened, compared to, say, a ministry or a transport depot.

Recent attacks in Paris and Jakarta are examples of how soft targets are especially vulnerable.

By themselves, businesses are unlikely to be able to come up with realistic emergency preparedness programmes, leading to the "security theatre" of mock fire drills that employees know about hours or even days in advance.

That the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday it will work more closely with commercial and private establishments to enhance their security is a clear signal that the Government is increasingly viewing security as a shared responsibility for all, not just security agencies, and will collaborate with the private sector on smarter and more effective contingency plans.

The Government is increasingly viewing security as a shared responsibility for all, not just security agencies.

Whether such an effort will bear fruit depends on how it improves on two existing mechanisms the police have for working with the private sector on crisis preparedness: the Safety and Security Watch Group, which involves businesses in anti-terror exercises such as Exercise Heartbeat, and the Corporate First Responder Scheme, which gives a company's designated personnel access to restricted areas in emergencies to aid in rescue and recovery work.

In the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) addendum to the President's Address, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean noted that NSCS has also been working with community groups to develop a stronger understanding of what affects how society reacts to a crisis.

It would be good if more people could see how abstract concepts like social capital, social trust and family resilience translate into measures to help Singapore withstand a terror attack.

Perhaps there is something to be learnt from our neighbours in Sydney and Jakarta.

In the aftermath of attacks in those cities, many took to social media to stand with their countrymen and shared the defiant message that they were not afraid. Many also went about to show life goes on.

When it comes to the crunch, whether we have such resilience will spell the difference between a divided Singapore, and one that will similarly not be cowed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Tackling terror threat is everybody's business '. Print Edition | Subscribe